Another Update on Getting Published (aka Trying to Write Book Two)

Published by: Skylark on 5th Jan 2018 | View all blogs by Skylark

It's been a strange few months since I shared my book cover (here). My input into the finished novel was done by mid-August and it became time to wait while other things, not involving me so much, happened in the background. This, the publishers and my agent advised me, was the time to make a start on Book Two. And that's mostly what I've been doing. Book Two (if it all works out) will be not a sequel but a sideways step from HOME, telling the story of a couple of the minor characters who make brief appearances as Jesika's supporting cast. The idea came to me during one of the HOME rewrites and niggled away in the background for almost two years. So when I started the first draft in September, it was with a clear vision in my head, bagfuls of enthusiasm and energy and a brand new Don't Break the Chain chart (explained here). And of course it all nose-dived from there.

I spent much of early September trying to write before I was ready to, and panicking when it wasn't working. I broke my chain several times. I got frustrated, despondent, worried, anxious... After a few weeks of this, I told myself to stop trying to write and just dream - characters, scenarios, backstories - I made copious notes in my notebook and on scraps of paper that I stuck to my pinboard. There were frequent crossings out and scrunched up paper and name changes and plot changes and character changes and still NO IDEA how I was going to achieve the vision, wondering how I had ever managed to write a whole book that someone wanted to publish in the first place. I started to feel the weight of the Second Book Curse that everyone talks about but I had been determined I wouldn't be trapped by. Now it appeared to be blocking all my exits and I didn't know how to avoid it any longer. 

Then late-October I had two breakthroughs. First, following a conversation with someone about how HOME came about, I suddenly remembered how many false starts I'd had with that novel - I rewrote the first 5k around ten times before I ever made it to double figure thousands on the word count - and I remembered how many times I knew I was writing drivel and unnecessary backstory and limp dialogue and cliches and tics but knowing that I just had to keep writing it to get the story told so that I had something I could work from, to rewrite and edit and refine. And some of the early drafts of HOME were truly terrible - in fact some of the later drafts weren't much better! -  but I'd forgotten this because I'd spent the last couple of years working on an almost-ready-to-publish book that was very far removed from first draft awfulness. Ok, so good. All the false starts on Book Two were a normal part of my writing process and it didn't matter how bad my writing was at this stage.

The second breakthrough came after I'd written the first chapter for the fifth time and I still wasn't happy with how one of my main characters was coming across. A voice in my head (which I'd probably been ignoring for a few months, because I'm helpful to myself like that) told me to stop, close my eyes and listen. It wasn't that I hadn't listened before, I'd just forgotten to shut up while I did it. This time I really listened and I didn't let my own thoughts and preconceptions drown out what I was listening to, and there was my main character showing me exactly who she was and what she was like - all her hopes and dreams and worries and hang-ups, her good points and her flaws spread out at my feet. And she wasn't so far removed from who I thought she was, it's just that I'd forgotten, in the excitement of starting a new project with a character I thought I already knew, that I was writing her from ten years before her appearance in HOME and a lot happened to her in those ten years before she became the person Jesika met. I needed to go back to the beginning of her character arc to find out who she was before 'it' all happened. And to find out what all the 'it' was that happened to her! I wrote the first chapter, again, but this time it stuck.

At the very end of October, I started a new Don't Break the Chain chart and bit by bit, over the last couple of months, the word count has increased. Some days I write a few hundred words, other days I bash out a sentence, and sometimes, like the day before yesterday, time and peace and inspiration come together in one marvellous day of non-stop writing and I write a couple of thousand in one go. But whatever I manage, every word counts. And very recently I was reminded by Joanne Harris on Twitter that even a few hundred words every day adds up to a novel by the end of the year. Yesterday, I completed 67 days of writing every day and I've got a word count of almost 17k. Not huge, but a significant improvement on the 2k I spent a month rewriting and, more importantly, I'm starting to sense where the story is going next. (Sort of, in a navigating-through-the-mist kind of way.) 

Meanwhile, things are still happening behind the scenes towards the imminent publication of HOME in just over a month's time. In December, I was incredibly privileged to be taken to Clays the book printers in Suffolk to see the printing process and see the hardback version of HOME roll off the end of the production line. It was an incredibly validating moment and the most perfectly-timed reminder of how far a book travels from first draft to finished book. It has taken me several months to adjust my brain back to first draft writing and I can now say with huge pride: YES! I am writing the most gloriously SHITTY first draft of Who Knows What... but look what happened, in the end, to the last shitty first draft I wrote.


Home book


p.s. yes, to those who spotted it, the cover design has changed a little since August!



  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 5 months ago
    Fascinating stuff, Skylark and I'm looking forward to the release of Home enormously. It's really fantastic that you're doing so well and so totally deserved.

    Incidentally, your link for a Don't Break the Chain chart points to a Cloud member list. This appears to be because SocialGo (at no extra charge) has inserted the word 'members' into your link and the Cloud ignores anything after this word. I don't think you can edit it out so you may want to simply paste the URL in full and let readers c&p their way there.
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Thank you, Athel! I think I've fixed the link problem - can you check from your end?
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 5 months ago
    Not yet - and the same goes for your book-cover link earlier. I think what's happening is that if a link includes the Cloud website part of the address ( SocialGo substitutes an alternative (no idea why, maybe something to do with the weird address handling) but slaps an extra "members" on by mistake. The only way I've managed to get round this in the past is to take the link I want, feed it into a free address shortener e.g. and use the resulting link instead.
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Ah, right, thanks. I'll try that...and if it doesn't work, I'll just post the links below.
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 5 months ago
    Incidentally - I absolutely love that photo of you!
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Haha, thanks! I don't, but everyone else does ;-)
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Ok, updated again. Does it work now?
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 5 months ago
    Yep :)
  • bazbaron
    by bazbaron 5 months ago
    This is great, Sky, it brought tears to my eyes to see how happy you look in the lovely photo. I think everyone on the cloud and elswhere who know's you also know how incredibly hard you have worked to finally 'get there' and this blog will stand rightly so, as inspiration to all budding authors. Thank you and I can't wait for it to go on sale.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 5 months ago
    What an amazing moment that picture represents!

    How comforting it is to hear that A Published Author has as many doubts and struggles as I do. And that she works like me: anything from one sentence to a thousand or more words a day (though that latter figure is quite exceptional in my case). A murrain on daily targets!
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 months ago
    I didn't see the first draft of Home, Mandy, and so I can't comment on its shittiness, but I did follow a fair part of its journey towards the final draft, and while I would have written some chunks in other ways, I never once saw shitty writing. I think you need (for once) to give your inner critic a bottle of champagne. This should have two effects. 1. To celebrate how your self-editing skills have produced a truly phenomenal novel in Home. And, 2. To make your inner critic so tipsy that you don't care how shitty the next first draft is. Because one gloriously shitty first draft can lead to one truly wonderful novel.
    And this image of you with the finished book will stay with me forever xxx
  • L.
    by L. 5 months ago
    That picture of you is brilliant!
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Thank you, Athel, for your tech support! :-D
    And thank you to the rest of you too for your comments. Richard, thousands in a day is very rare for me too. I've averaged a little over 200 words a day since I started the chain, and while that will go up now that I've got into my stride, my usual average is always less than 500. But it's very hit and miss and that's why daily targets don't work for me, but the challenge of writing something, however small, every day does.
    John, thank you - NOBODY saw the worst of the worst. There was the ritual burning of the hard copies and the digital ones I am pretty sure were edited over :-) But thank you - it was your feedback and encouragement that kept me going when I wasn't sure if it was working :-) xxx
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 5 months ago
    This is so fabulous to read - not that you struggled, of course, but that you pushed through that and are well on your way to getting that second story told.

    You are SO right about starting something new after working on the edited-and-polished versions! I've had a bit of something similar myself this year - two novels started and ditched, a revamp of something old...and they all seem absolute rubbish compared to what's in print in StarMark and Kingstone. This blog has inspired and encouraged me because like you, I'd forgotten how shitty the shitty first drafts were!

    I'm still trying to rediscover who my MC is, but as that was your second breakthrough, I'll hang on to her until I get mine!

    Thank you for continuing to share the journey with us all xx
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Thank you, Squidge! It's really easy to forget, isn't it? I worked out that, apart from short stories, it was over four years since I'd last started a first draft. Lots of time to forget what it feels like!
  • mike
    by mike 5 months ago
    Good luck with book no 2. You are very wise to get some sort of draft done before the book comes out. I will buy a copy of 'Home' as it has had such good previews, Not much to do with it, but I watched ;Little Women' - the BBC adaption - over Christmas. I had not read the book but I have a DVD of a 1933 version starring Katherine Hepburn as Jo. I notice it can be downloaded from UTube.
  • Debi
    by Debi 5 months ago
    I'm supposed to be good with words (I'm in a lot of trouble if that ain't so) but I don't have the words to express how proud and excited I am, Mandy. I think I'm right in saying you were WW's first client - eleven years ago? - and one of the first people to sign up to the Cloud. What a journey. The best is yet to come. xxx
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Thanks, Mike and John. Debi, twelve and a half years ago!! Summer 2005.... :-0 Thank you for everything you've done xxx
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 5 months ago
    Thank you for writing this, Skylark. It’s great to read about your successes and struggles. I am fighting to get a first draft out at the moment and feeling better about it since reading this.
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    That's great to read, Jane! 'Keep going and don't worry if it's bad' is the best advice I was ever given for first drafts :-)
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 5 months ago
    Good to read you haven't flagged and are still up and at it!
    Well done and see soon :)
  • Hilly
    by Hilly 5 months ago
    Well done and like everyone has stated, what a truly wonderful and inspiring photo of you and your book.
    I want one of me one day just like it. Oh, keep dreaming but it's the dreams that keep us all going. Good luck with the next stage of your writing.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 5 months ago
    Oh, meant to add - good point about not writing until you're ready. I've certainly found the wisdom of that: not going off half-cocked before the story's materialised enough in my mind. I even blogged about it once :)
    And I also agree about the usefulness of dreams, although I'd never really thought about shutting up and listening. Will try that :-D
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    Thank you, Whisks and Hilly! Definitely keep dreaming! Yes, Whisks, I think I remember you blogging about it. I should have known better, really, but got overtaken by enthusiasm ;-)
  • Philippa
    by Philippa 5 months ago
    This is such a helpful and honest blog. Huge congratulations again on all you've achieved, and thank you for sharing your book-two-shitty-first-draft-itis. I am currently creating an entirely new version of my current WIP, and have been feeling so similar, plus can relate to trying to bash on too quickly and hitting the brick wall. Your blog is full of such wise advice (stop, listen, trust in the revisions). thank you! Can't wait to see you at the launch....
  • Hil
    by Hil 5 months ago
    Fantastic blog, Skylark. It's truly inspiring and encouraging to read about your ongoing journey. See you soon... (and you, Philippa?!)
  • Giselle
    by Giselle 5 months ago
    Skylark this is just simply amazing, and thank you for allowing us to follow your - and Jesika's - journey from idea to short story to publication. It couldn't happen to a nicer, more decent person which, during these times, is very heart-warming. Of course I can't wait to read it, and I will go and bid on the copy in the Stories for Homes auction. If some-one else wants to outbid me, so be it....
    (shameless auction plug, please visit: )
  • Tony
    by Tony 5 months ago
    I love your idea of writing Book 2 about 'minor' characters that appeared in Home. I think, when you have created a world of your own, there is obviously so much more potential than can come to light in just one novel. My protagonist, Will Dillon, first appeared as a Granddad in an earlier (unpublished) novel and I had tremendous fun writing his back story to fit in with the old man I had originally created. So roll on, Book 2 (but can't wait to get my hands on Book 1 next month.)
  • Debi
    by Debi 5 months ago
    Good point, Giselle, re bidding for a dedicated and signed copy in the #SfH2 auction. Jesika came to life in SfH1 and demanded Mandy give her a whole novel for telling her story. And what a story it's turned out to be, both for Mandy and for Jesika. It would be great for that auction lot to go to someone who knows them both from the Cloud.
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 months ago
    And you, Phillippa! And Hil! Hooray! Can't wait :-)
    Thank you for the auction plug, Giselle! Hoping Home will raise a few quid towards the total and agree with Debi that it would be extra special if it's won by someone I know :-) :-)
    Tony, I'm also have a lot of fun with it now that I've (more or less) stopped panicking about the story :-)
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